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Thurs 6/20 8:15pm: WRKF's FM/HD broadcasts are operating with reduced power due to an equipment fault. Online listening is unaffected.

Road to Rickwood: Church pews and bleachers

Willie Mays (top row, center) with the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons. The team posed for a photo after beating the Kansas City Monarchs in Game 3 of the Negro League World Series pennant race.
Source: Collection of the Negro League Baseball Museum
Willie Mays (top row, center) with the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons. The team posed for a photo after beating the Kansas City Monarchs in Game 3 of the Negro League World Series pennant race.

The 1940s are the heyday for Black baseball in Alabama, the peak of the Negro Leagues – starring a high schooler named Willie Mays. But when the Major Leagues integrate, Black teams everywhere start to fold.

On this episode, host Roy Wood Jr. speaks with surviving players from the Birmingham Black Barons about the soaring highs and painful lows of Negro League baseball in Alabama. Roy also explores the struggle for equality and human rights in Birmingham that served as the backdrop of this era. We see how these communities and stories overlap, and how the effort to uphold segregation leads to the temporary end of professional baseball in Birmingham.

This episode was written and produced by Jonah Buchanan and hosted by Roy Wood Jr.

Our executive producer is Alana Schreiber and our senior producer is Ben Dickstein. Our producers are Jonah Buchanan and AL.com’s Cody D Short. Mixing and sound design by Joaquin Cotler and story editing by Ryan Vasquez. Artwork by Xavier Murillo. Original music composition by Squeak E. Clean Studios. Voice tracking by Alt Mix Studio.

Special thanks to Paul Maassen, The Friends of Rickwood Field, Birmingham Public Library archives, AL.com and WBHM.

For more stories on Rickwood Field, check out https://www.al.com/rickwood-field/

This podcast is produced by WWNO and WRKF. Distributed by the NPR network in association with Major League Baseball.

Alana Schreiber is the managing producer for the live daily news program, Louisiana Considered. She comes to WWNO from KUNC in Northern Colorado, where she worked as a radio producer for the daily news magazine, Colorado Edition. She has previously interned for Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul and The Documentary Group in New York City.